Mark Sweatman will append his already remarkable story with a new chapter when he embarks on “The Long Walk Home” across Atlanta on Saturday. It’s his second large-scale walk since losing his left leg to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy four years ago.
Following last year’s eleven-day, 120-mile journey from Atlanta to Alabama for Limbs for Life, Sweatman forgoes a continuous route, opting to stay local for a 140-mile trek across metro Atlanta over nine days. The journey begins Saturday morning at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.
Sweatman found his inspiration to select Lost N Found Youth as his beneficiary in his church’s pews, so St. Mark’s serves as a fitting backdrop for both the journey’s beginning and conclusion.
“It was this past January, and one of our pastors got up and talked about how they were going to let Lost N Found Youth use one of the old houses on our property as their new shelter,” Sweatman explains. “It just hit me then, ‘That’s who I need to walk for, that’s who God was calling me to walk for.’”
Estranged from his own family because of his sexual orientation, Sweatman empathizes with LNF, which provides affirming resources for Atlanta’s homeless LGBT youth.
“It’s definitely affected the choices I’ve made,” Sweatman says of his personal experience and selecting LNF. “I was lucky enough that I was an adult before I was estranged from my parents. Imagine being kicked out of your home before you know how to take care of yourself, cook, manage your finances, get a job, and even finish your education . . . I couldn’t imagine being an adolescent and being kicked out of your house.”
Join the journey
This year’s journey, “The Long Walk Home,” will carry Sweatman and his team from Midtown to Stone Mountain, as far north as Cumming, and as far east as Lithonia across various trails and greenways. This year, Sweatman has increased his mileage but simultaneously decreased the number of days over which it spans, making the long walk home just a bit longer. He says he learned to start with a slower pace, and that not walking along roadsides will make the experience more manageable and comfortable.
Atlanta can show their support of the walk in numerous ways. They can join the walk, donate to Lost N Found, or even just watch and share the daily vlogs Sweatman plants to record and upload to his YouTube Channel.
Whether you want to walk a full day or a few miles, Sweatman encourages any one interested in committing physical resources to first check the daily schedule for route locations here and sign up to walk via the event’s Facebook Page. Those interested in breaking bread with the group should check their schedule for daily lunch stops, including a Saturday kick-off lunch that will happen around noon at Fellini’s in Decatur.
Sweatman encourages those who can consider financial support to make a donation to help provide “not only immediate needs such as clothing, shelter and food and but also the life skills to help these young children get their education, become a productive member of society when their an adult.”
A few extra miles from a fuzzy friend
Every step Sweatman takes not only raises awareness for worthy causes, but also serves as a reminder about the obstacles he’s overcome himself.
In his memoir “Amputated Yet Whole: How Adversity Made Me Complete,” Sweatman chronicles not only the injury that led to his physical amputation but several other amputations that he simultaneously endured.
In an avalanche of awfulness, Sweatman experienced issues with his family, sustained the injury that would change his life, lost his job, was barely surviving on savings and maxed out credit cards, and was abandoned by his partner. The resulting mental and emotional bankruptcy left him broken and contemplating suicide.
“The only thing that kept me alive until I realized that I didn’t want to die was my dog Diamond,” Sweatman admits. “I felt so alone and so abandoned, but I knew if I took my life and I was there by myself, that Diamond would starve to death . . . she was a rescue and had already been through a lot, she didn’t deserve to starve to death.”
So in those dark moments, Sweatman vowed to find Diamond a new home. He never followed through, and ultimately a cycle of broken promises eventually saved his life.
Diamond and her tiny feet will not make an appearance during “The Long Walk Home,” Sweatman jokes. “She likes to sniff everything. It would take us an entire year to go 140 miles.” He’s considered a doggie stroller, but laughs he’s already gay enough.
Photos by Watkins Imaging